Schloss Nymphenburg is spectacular. The expanse, the view, the splendour. But what would all this opulent architecture be without the noble parquet flooring? And how do you manage to keep it always looking so agelessly elegant? We asked the expert on site how the lustre of the palace floors is maintained and what you can learn from it for your own floor care.
Although the floor of the famous Schönheitengalerie (Gallery of Beauty) in Schloss Nymphenburg creaks with every step: The attentive visitor will notice that the simple historic floors in Schloss Nymphenburg are deliberately modest and appealing through their naturalness.
The man responsible for keeping the floors so beautiful and natural is Heinrich Piening. Raised in a traditional timber processing family, he has, as he says himself, sawdust in his blood. Since 1995, Dr Piening has been in charge of the wood restoration at the Bayerische Schlösserverwaltung (BSV) (Bavarian Palace Administration). During a tour of the main palace, he shows how the floors can withstand the flow of visitors even after more than 200 years.
Most of the floors in Schloss Nymphenburg are still largely in their original condition. Some of them date back to the 1720s and were added to or renewed until the 1950s. This is evidenced by the elaborate music-themed rococo stucco-work and the music gallery in the banqueting hall on the upper floor: the place where people celebrated and danced. Although this has left its traces, the stone floor, which is one of the reasons why the hall is called the "Steinerner Saal" (stone hall), is well preserved.
Dr Piening, why does the floor still look so good after more than 200 years?
The materials used back then were of high quality. In the hall, only light Steinhof limestone and red Ruhpolding nodular limestone are used alternately in a check pattern. Both are local Bavarian stone varieties. The table tops for furniture also came from the same quarries.
What do you do to preserve the floor in this condition?
The difficulty with these floors is that the joints open up from time to time. The slabs move against each other because the sand underneath shifts a bit. Every few years, a couple of slabs have to be lifted up and re-laid. As a layman, however, you can hardly tell which ones they are. New slabs can be recognised by the fact that the edges are too perfect and have been cut instead of broken.
To the left and right of the hall, the southern and northern salettl (pavilion structure) lead to the apartments and galleries that connect the former living quarters with the banqueting hall. Around 1200 square metres of robust, durable oak parquet flooring have been laid in these rooms. The Versailles parquet chosen here consists of panels of about three-quarters of a square metre, which were manufactured in a workshop and lined up randomly. The concept of these prefabricated elements originated in Versailles and was developed there out of necessity.
Dr. Piening, what happened?
The former stone floors were mopped too wet, which led to the beams underneath rotting and the top covering had to be renewed. This had to be done very quickly. So, prefabricated elements were made that work like a plug-in kit. When walked on, the floor flexes slightly, like a dance floor, and makes a very authentic creaking sound, as no glue is needed thanks to the plug-in system.
New slabs can be recognised by the fact that the edges are too perfect and have been cut instead of broken.
Should people also consider this in their own home and pay attention to what is underneath the flooring?
Today there are other materials, like concrete. This means that the flooring structure is completely different. Today, parquet is usually laid on a screed layer. Nowadays there is even parquet flooring that is suitable for underfloor heating.
Why were the floors at Schloss Nymphenburg actually kept so simple?
For reasons of prestige, because as a summer palace it was not as important as, for example, the Residenz (city palace). The latter was the main palace in the city centre, where there were appropriate ceremonies, or look at the floors in the Ansbach Residence. There, even scenic representations are laid in the parquet. Nymphenburg lacks pomp, but the wooden floors are convincing in their naturalness. Every fibre, every grain is clearly visible. They are neither sanded nor coated with a thick layer of wax or soaked in oil - an absolute no-go.
Why? What is wrong with that?
Oils penetrate deep into the wood fibres, up to two millimetres. They bind chemically and subsequent treatment is therefore not possible. This would require the use of chemicals or sanding. For historical floors, this is out of the question. We don't have any oiled or varnished floors in the palace; they would wear out due to the flow of visitors. The areas would then become very unsightly and hardly maintainable. When we examined the floors, we could not find any traces of oil either; they have always been treated with waxes. Waxes are also a good option for private areas. There, the wear is much less and the maintenance more intensive, so the floors stay beautiful much longer.
Until about 20 years ago, carpets were laid out to protect the floors and visitors were guided through the palace on them. In the rooms that have not yet been restored, they are still laid out. Piening lifts one side of the carpet, the difference in colour becomes clearly visible.
So the carpets were not a good idea …
No. The dirt migrates into the wax and forms a paste that abrades the floor. Furthermore, the carpets are ground into the floor, which leaves depressions of up to three millimetres. The rubber coating on the underside of some carpets also allows plasticisers to penetrate the wood, which can discolour it or make it sticky.
What happened after you realised that the carpets had to go?
A new floor and maintenance concept was needed. We tested different waxes on sample boards and investigated which materials had been used before. Since 2000, there has been a new concept for the holistic restoration of a room.
King Ludwig I's Schönheitengalerie (Beauty Gallery) was restored in 2019 and 2020. What procedure was followed here?
The wax was thinned out using a cleaning pad. This alone took the wood restorers one hour per square metre. If a floor is more heavily soiled, a dry ice machine is used. This was followed by a fruit acid treatment, three to four coats of wax and a polish.
Without a carpet, isn't the floor totally exposed to the many steps of the visitors?
We have also adapted the visitor concept. On the ground floor, they walk through a cleaning zone. There are carpets, and in rainy weather also mats, over which visitors walk and wipe the soles of their shoes. This way, 90 per cent of the shoes are swept clean so that gravel and dirt don't get on the floor in the first place.
In royal times, there were floor polishers who were specifically employed to polish the floors every day.
How time-consuming is the further maintenance of the floors?
There is not much more to take care of. Every day, before the palace opens, the floor is vacuumed, which usually only takes an hour. Twice a year, after the summer and winter seasons, more intensive maintenance takes place. First, the floors are damp mopped - never wet, but almost dry. Then the floor is left to dry in between so that the fibres become smooth again. Next, two to three relatively thin coats of wax are applied. The wax paste consists of hard paraffin, micro-crystalline wax, beeswax and a portion of carnauba wax, a hard wax extracted from the palm tree.
Is this what floor care looked like more than 200 years ago?
In royal times, there were floor polishers who were specifically employed to polish the floors every day. They used beeswax, which was sometimes applied warm or dissolved in turpentine oil and applied as a wax paste with a cloth and polished with a blocker or brushes.
In comparison, today's floor care is more manageable and ensures that the restoration work will last for 30 years.
What do you pay special attention to when it comes to maintenance and restoration?
Everything we do has to be completely reversible. You try to present something in an authentic appearance. At home, of course, it's something different. People are happy to see a new shine, which varnished floors often need. But it's about preserving old floors as much as possible and making them usable. And that in fact does not require a lot of shine.